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Mainland China reports three new coronavirus cases

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Saturday reported three new coronavirus cases in the mainland for July 3, compared with five cases a day earlier, the health authority said.

Two of the new infections were imported cases, the National Health Commission said in a statement, while the capital Beijing reported one new case. There were no new deaths.

China also reported four new asymptomatic patients, the same as a day earlier.

As of July 3, mainland China had a total of 83,545 confirmed coronavirus cases, it said.

China’s death toll from the coronavirus remained at 4,634, unchanged since mid-May.

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Airlines end legal challenge to UK quarantine policy

LONDON (Reuters) – Three of Europe’s biggest airlines said on Friday they would end a legal challenge against the British government after it scrapped its quarantine rule for travellers coming from some of the most popular tourist destinations.

The government said the policy would be ended for English holidaymakers to countries such as France, Spain and Italy, although it would be maintained for the United States.

The policy announcement coincided with a planned court hearing for a legal challenge to the measures by British Airways (ICAG.L), easyJet (EZJ.L) and Ryanair (RYA.I).

The airlines heavily criticised the government’s introduction of a blanket rule that all travellers arriving from abroad must self-isolate for 14 days on June 8, saying it jeopardised the industry’s recovery from the crisis.

However, they agreed to end the legal challenge after the government said it would publish a list of countries to which the rules would not apply.

“The blanket quarantine introduced by the UK Government on everyone entering into England was irrational and has seriously damaged the economy and the travel industry,” the airlines said in a statement.

“Today’s publication of a list of countries is a first step. We look forward to the publication of the rationale behind the decision-making and the continued lifting of the quarantine from safe countries.”

Tom Hickman, representing the airlines, had earlier argued that the restrictions on travellers were stricter than those imposed at the height of the coronavirus lockdown, and that the rate of infection in different countries should be taken into account.

The government said the policy was a crucial step to avoid a second wave of COVID-19, and their lawyers said that the measures had been justified and proportionate.

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World News

Pakistani foreign minister tests positive for COVID-19

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said on Friday he had tested positive for COVID-19, days after holding high profile meetings including one with U.S. special representative on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad.

“This afternoon I felt a slight fever and immediately quarantined myself at home,” Qureshi said on Twitter. He said he felt healthy and would carry on his duties from home.

In the last few days, Qureshi has had contact with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan in parliament and in a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

Qureshi also met Khalilzad on Wednesday when the U.S. special representative travelled to Pakistan to discuss progress on the Afghan peace process.

Pictures released from those meetings showed Qureshi and others wearing face masks.

Pakistan has reported 221,896 cases of the coronavirus and 4,451 deaths. The country has continued to see around 4,000 new cases on a daily basis, despite daily testing numbers falling.

A number of high officials have tested positive for COVID-19 in Pakistan, including Minister for Railways Sheikh Rasheed and the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Asad Qaiser.

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Beaches beckon as England to end quarantine for more than 50 countries

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will end coronavirus quarantines for people arriving in England from more than 50 countries, including Germany, France, Spain and Italy – but not the United States – the government said on Friday.

The move, effective July 10, clears the way for millions of British tourists to take summer holidays without worrying about being quarantined when they return. Those arriving from higher risk countries will still have to self-quarantine for 14 days under a rule which has angered airlines and travel companies.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had debated for days how to ease the quarantine rules. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own health policies within the United Kingdom, have not announced plans to lift the measures.

“Today marks the next step in carefully reopening our great nation,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

As the spread of the novel coronavirus slows in Europe, countries are reopening travel after more than three months of lockdown.

The full list of countries was published here: here

Australia, New Zealand and Japan are included, as are Caribbean tourist destinations such as the Bahamas and Barbados, but popular holiday destination Portugal was not on the list. Nor were the United States, China, India or Russia.

“The U.S. from a very early stage banned flights from the UK and from Europe so there isn’t a reciprocal arrangement in place,” Shapps said.

Britain’s foreign ministry also set out exemptions from a global advisory against “all but essential” international travel, from July 4, a key to normal insurance being valid.

The government said it expected countries included on the quarantine-free list to reciprocate by relaxing their own restrictions.

The move to ditch the quarantine prompted three of Europe’s biggest airlines, British Airways (ICAG.L), Ryanair (RYA.I) and easyJet (EZJ.L) to end a legal challenge against the government.

Britain, with the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, is slowly reopening its economy. England and Northern Ireland will reopen pubs this weekend, and Scotland and Wales are expected to follow later in July.

Johnson has warned people to maintain social distancing rules and is expected to repeat that caution at a news conference on Friday.

“Anyone who flouts social distancing and COVID-secure rules is not only putting us all at risk but letting down those businesses and workers who have done so much to prepare for this new normal,” he will say. [nL8N2EA1PC]

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World News

Beaches beckon as England to end quarantine for over 50 countries – but not the U.S.

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will end coronavirus quarantines for people arriving in England from more than 50 countries, including Germany, France, Spain and Italy – but not the United States – the British government said on Friday.

The move, effective July 10, clears the way for millions of British tourists to take summer holidays without worrying about being quarantined when they return. Those arriving from higher risk countries will still have to self-quarantine for 14 days under a rule which has angered airlines and travel companies.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had debated for days how to ease the quarantine rules. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own health policies within the United Kingdom, have not announced plans to lift the measures.

“There will be a list of 50 plus countries and if you add in the overseas territories, 60 something or other that we will publish later today,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

“Today marks the next step in carefully reopening our great nation,” he said.

As the spread of the novel coronavirus slows in Europe, countries are reopening travel after more than three months of lockdown.

The full list of countries has not yet been published. New Zealand is included, as are the Vatican and Britain’s overseas territories such as the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. The United States remains on the “red list”.

“The U.S. from a very early stage banned flights from the UK and from Europe so there isn’t a reciprocal arrangement in place,” Shapps said.

Britain’s foreign ministry will also set out exemptions from a global advisory against “all but essential” international travel, from July 4, a key to normal insurance being valid.

The government said it expected countries included on the quarantine-free list to reciprocate by relaxing their own restrictions.

The move to ditch the quarantine comes as England’s High Court is due to hear a legal challenge by British Airways (ICAG.L), backed by low-cost rivals Ryanair (RYA.I) and easyJet (EZJ.L). They argue the quarantine had no scientific basis and was unworkable.

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  • UK minister expects travel insurance policies to adapt to coronavirus rules

Britain, with the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, is slowly reopening its economy. England and Northern Ireland will reopen pubs this weekend, and Scotland and Wales are expected to follow later in July.

Johnson has warned people to maintain social distancing rules and is expected to repeat that caution at a news conference on Friday.

“Anyone who flouts social distancing and COVID-secure rules is not only putting us all at risk but letting down those businesses and workers who have done so much to prepare for this new normal,” he will say.

Source: Read Full Article

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World News

UK's Sunak to make announcement on jobs support next week

LONDON (Reuters) – Finance minister Rishi Sunak will next week make an announcement on the government’s job support schemes, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday.

“You’ll be hearing more about what we’re going to do to support people next week from the chancellor Rishi Sunak,” he told LBC radio, responding to a question about what will happen when an existing furlough scheme ends later this year.

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World News

Beaches beckon as England to end quarantine for over 50 countries – but not the U.S.

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will end coronavirus quarantines for people arriving in England from more than 50 countries, including Germany, France, Spain and Italy – but not the United States – the British government said on Friday.

The move, effective July 10, clears the way for millions of British tourists to take summer holidays without worrying about being quarantined when they return. Those arriving from higher risk countries will still have to self-quarantine for 14 days under a rule which has angered airlines and travel companies.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had debated for days how to ease the quarantine rules. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which set their own health policies within the United Kingdom, have not announced plans to lift the measures.

“There will be a list of 50 plus countries and if you add in the overseas territories, 60 something or other that we will publish later today,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

“Today marks the next step in carefully reopening our great nation,” he said.

As the spread of the novel coronavirus slows in Europe, countries are reopening travel after more than three months of lockdown.

The full list of countries has not yet been published. New Zealand is included, as are the Vatican and Britain’s overseas territories such as the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. The United States remains on the “red list”.

“The U.S. from a very early stage banned flights from the UK and from Europe so there isn’t a reciprocal arrangement in place,” Shapps said.

Britain’s foreign ministry will also set out exemptions from a global advisory against “all but essential” international travel, from July 4, a key to normal insurance being valid.

The government said it expected countries included on the quarantine-free list to reciprocate by relaxing their own restrictions.

The move to ditch the quarantine comes as England’s High Court is due to hear a legal challenge by British Airways (ICAG.L), backed by low-cost rivals Ryanair (RYA.I) and easyJet (EZJ.L). They argue the quarantine had no scientific basis and was unworkable.

Related Coverage

  • UK minister expects travel insurance policies to adapt to coronavirus rules

Britain, with the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, is slowly reopening its economy. England and Northern Ireland will reopen pubs this weekend, and Scotland and Wales are expected to follow later in July.

Johnson has warned people to maintain social distancing rules and is expected to repeat that caution at a news conference on Friday.

“Anyone who flouts social distancing and COVID-secure rules is not only putting us all at risk but letting down those businesses and workers who have done so much to prepare for this new normal,” he will say.

Source: Read Full Article

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Business

Wall Street shifts bets to big pharma as COVID-19 vaccine race progresses

(Reuters) – Wall Street is moving some bets on COVID-19 vaccines to large pharmaceutical companies with robust manufacturing capabilities, signaling that a love affair with small biotech firms might be ending after the sector’s best quarter in almost 20 years.

Early signs of the shift came Wednesday, when positive data for one of Pfizer Inc’s (PFE.N) COVID-19 vaccine candidates sent shares of the large U.S. drugmaker up more than 3%. Shares of its partner on the vaccine, Germany’s BioNTech SE (22UAy.F), have been flat on the data.

Although the news had little effect on shares of Pfizer’s large rivals in the vaccine race, smaller peers Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) and Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc (INO.O), both of which have previously shown promising COVID-19 data of their own, ended down more than 4% and 25%, respectively. Inovio partially rebounded Thursday.

For the week so far, shares of bigger players in the vaccine race, such as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Merck (MRK.N), have also outperformed Inovio and Moderna.

Some of the selling was likely driven by end-of-quarter profit-taking, locking in dizzying gains in an otherwise turbulent market. Moderna and Inovio shares have risen nearly 200 percent and 540 percent in the year-to-date, respectively, greatly eclipsing gains for large pharmaceutical companies.

Analysts say investors are changing their strategy to focus on companies that can make, as well as discover, a vaccine and that the risk reward profile for some biotechs is less favorable after their stunning gains so far this year.

“I would certainly say success by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, or Johnson & Johnson could make it more challenging for smaller companies, given size and scale and manufacturing capability,” said Vamil Divan, a biotechnology analyst at Mizuho.

Smaller biotechnology companies with promising COVID-19 vaccines pose a special challenge for investors, said Justin Onuekwusi, a portfolio manager at Legal & General Group Plc.

Because of their limited manufacturing capabilities, investors in those stocks are effectively betting that the company or its drug will be bought by larger companies, he said.

“In smaller cap stocks like biotech, it all tends to be quite binary so fundamental or detailed analysis don’t always work,” Onuekwusi said.

Medical manufacturers have never faced a challenge like that of producing a global COVID-19 vaccine.

Companies including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have said they each aim to produce as many as 1 billion doses by the end of 2021.

There are more than 17 vaccine candidates being tested on humans in a frantic global race to end a pandemic that has infected 10 million people and killed more than half a million. Drugmakers have released early stage human trial data for five vaccine candidates so far.

Bernstein Research analyst Vincent Chen said COVID-19 vaccines could generate in excess of $10 billion in annual revenue, but many investors are struggling to determine their value.

“In the near term, they are not going make a ton of money on” the vaccines, said Evan Seigerman, an analyst at Credit Suisse. “The initial round of vaccines are going to be given away or sold at cost. Where people will start making money is if COVID-19 vaccine becomes something like the flu shot and people need to constantly protect against it.”

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Business

How Moderna executives are cashing in on COVID-19 vaccine stock speculation

(Reuters) – Biotech firm Moderna Inc could reap tens of billions of dollars in sales and stock appreciation if it wins the race for a COVID-19 vaccine. If it loses, the early-stage company’s value could crash.

In the meantime, the firm’s chief executive is pocketing millions of dollars every month by selling shares that have tripled in price on news of Moderna’s development progress, a Reuters analysis of corporate filings shows. The sales – by CEO St├ęphane Bancel, his childrens’ trust and companies he owns – amount to about $21 million between January 1 and June 26, including $6 million in May.

The company’s chief medical officer, Tal Zaks, has cashed out the majority of his available stock and options, netting over $35 million since January, the filings show.

The lucrative liquidations highlight the unusually powerful incentives for biotech executives to highlight development milestones for drugs that often never get approved or sold, according to interviews with seven executive-compensation experts. Optimistic corporate statements on coronavirus vaccines, they said, could cause investors to overpay for company shares or create false hope among the public and health officials seeking new weapons to fight the pandemic.

Bancel set a fixed schedule for his share sales – known as a 10b5-1 plan – long before the pandemic hit. Such executive share-sale plans are meant to guard against insider trading, avoiding the potential for executives to sell in advance of bad news they know is coming, or to put off selling until after a positive announcement.

Zaks sharply increased the pace of his sales with a new plan he put in place on March 13. That was three days before Moderna announced it had dosed the first human with a vaccine candidate, news that sent its stock price up 24% and signaled that future development milestones might push the shares higher.

The sales give the firm’s executives an unusual opportunity to lock in big profits on what could be fleeting market optimism, said Jesse Fried, a Harvard Law School professor who wrote a book about executive compensation.

“This may be their one shot at making a boatload of money if the vaccine doesn’t work out,” Fried said. Executives have wide discretion in releasing information, he said, and Moderna’s chiefs have a powerful motivation to “keep the stock price up.”

Reuters found no evidence that Bancel, Zaks or Moderna has exaggerated the company’s vaccine progress.

Many news outlets have reported sales by Moderna executives in the wake of positive news on its vaccine efforts. Reuters is the first to report that Bancel and affiliated entities are selling 90,000 shares every month and that Zaks moved to sharply increase his sales in March, three days before Moderna released market-moving news.

A Moderna spokesman said that Bancel is liquidating only a small portion of his holdings and that “substantially all of his family’s assets remain invested in Moderna.” This stakeholding reflected Bancel’s “long-term commitment” to the firm, the spokesman said. Bancel, his companies and his children’s trust own more than 24 million Moderna shares, making him the second largest stockholder, owning about 8% of the firm, down slightly from the beginning of the year.

Zaks did not respond to requests for comment, and Moderna did not comment on his share sales.

The high frequency, volume and profits of Bancel’s transactions – at about 90,000 shares monthly – are unique among the CEOs of 26 companies identified by Reuters as developing COVID-19 vaccines or treatments and that regularly publish information on executive trades of company shares.

Twenty-one of the firms have seen their stock rise since the end of January, just before coronavirus spread globally, and ten of those, including Moderna, have seen share prices at least double. But just four of the CEOs of those firms, including Bancel, have sold company stock. Only one – Chad Robins of Adaptive Biotech – made substantial, regular sales under a 10b5-1 plan, like Moderna’s Bancel. Adaptive Biotech, however, has seen a far smaller recent stock-price increase – about 50% – than Moderna. During May and June, Robins sold about $12 million in stock after Adaptive’s stock price rose on news that it is researching antibody therapies and a coronavirus test that delivers faster results.

Adaptive Biotech declined to comment and referred to a company filing that said Robins sold the stock to diversify his investments.

Most of Bancel’s sales have been carried out through plans in place since December 2018, the filings show. The transactions started in November 2019, when a trust belonging to his children began selling 11,046 shares each week. This January, Bancel and two companies he controls started selling stock regularly. Since then, they have collectively sold about 90,000 Moderna shares each month.

HIGH RISKS, REWARDS

Such scheduled sales are more common at early-stage biotech companies such as Moderna – which face intense risk-reward scenarios – than at more established and diversified drug firms, where executives frequently hold their equity until they leave the company.

Executives’ ongoing sales are an effective hedge against the bigger downside risk faced by companies like Moderna. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the firm has more than 20 therapies and vaccines in development – but none near approval. Investors view the firm as a frontrunner in creating a COVID-19 vaccine, but it faces 17 serious competitors with candidates in clinical evaluations and 129 others in earlier development stages, according to the World Health Organization. Only a very small number of companies are expected to get vaccines to market, biotech executives and health experts say.

If Moderna successfully launches its coronavirus vaccine and a dozen other of its most promising trial medicines, its stock price could rise to $279 based on the new revenues, according to Morgan Stanley analysts. That would yield Bancel a fortune of about $10 billion including currently unvested share options, the Reuters analysis shows.

The firm’s stock has soared from $18 in late February – just before it announced it had shipped its vaccine candidate to the U.S. government for trials – to close at $56.57 on July 2, down 5%, after a report that the start of its large vaccine trial would be delayed. That gives the company a market capitalization of nearly $23 billion. The stock hit a high of $80 in May.

But Morgan Stanley also has a “bear case,” in which the company would be worth only as much as the cash on its balance sheet if all of its vaccine and drug candidates don’t make it to market.

‘SCIENCE BY PRESS RELEASE’

Bancel and Zaks have been bullish on Moderna’s prospects in public statements.

Bancel calls the mRNA technology the company uses for all vaccine development the “software of life,” with potential to create “a new class of medicines.” He has also said Moderna’s process can create vaccines much faster and with a better chance of “technical success” – and, by implication, regulatory approval – than other firms.

“We are not aware of anybody else who can do this at this scale, with this focus, at this speed,” he told investors on June 2. Earlier, in a May 7 earnings call, Bancel said he had “never been as excited and optimistic about the future of Moderna.”

Many investors and analysts are optimistic as well but say it is difficult to evaluate Moderna’s prospects given the early stages of trials.

The company drew criticism from scientists for releasing incomplete data from a trial being conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). On May 18, Moderna announced that its vaccine candidate had produced protective antibodies in a small subset of healthy trial volunteers. The news pushed Moderna stock up 20% to its peak of $80.

Some scientists suggested Moderna should have held off publishing until it had all test subjects’ results. “This was science by press release,” said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Without complete data, he said, “you’re left to read the tea leaves.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci – the nation’s top infectious disease expert – shared the test results with U.S. governors, Vice President Mike Pence said in a Twitter post the day of Moderna’s announcement. But Fauci – who is running the Moderna trial – later said he didn’t like the company’s early release of incomplete data, according to an interview published by the STAT health news service. A spokeswoman for Fauci’s agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did not comment beyond what Fauci said in the interview.

Bancel told investors at a June conference that Moderna’s leadership worried the information had been seen by too many people, including at the NIH. He said the company made the partial findings public because it worried the data would get leaked – and it considered the incomplete results material information that all investors should receive at the same time. A company spokesman told Reuters the company believed it needed to release the information to comply with Securities and Exchange Commission rules.

The day after the May 18 announcement, Zaks sold 125,000 shares – netting him nearly $10 million – at a price of $78, up from $66 on the Friday before the Monday press release. Company filings show the sale was executed in accordance with the plan that Zaks put in place on March 13.

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UK to relax England's quarantine rules for summer travellers

(Reuters) – Britain’s government said it will lift its COVID-19 quarantine requirement for people arriving in England from countries including Germany, France, Spain and Italy from July 10.

A full list of countries covered by the relaxation would be announced on Friday, the country’s transport ministry said.

Under the existing rules, travellers must self-isolate for 14 days on entering the country, something airlines and the travel industry have said will cost thousands of jobs and inflict further damage on the economy.

The government said it expected countries included on the quarantine-free list for England would reciprocate by relaxing their own travel restrictions.

Britain’s foreign ministry would set out exemptions from its global advisory against “all but essential” international travel from July 4.

“Today marks the next step in carefully reopening our great nation,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said.

The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own powers over public health issues.

Britain said it would require all travellers, except those from the exempted countries, to provide their contact information including their travel history on arrival. People who have been in or transited through non-exempt countries will still have to self isolate for 14 days.

The Telegraph newspaper reported on Thursday the government would end coronavirus quarantine rules for those arriving from 75 countries so that people can go on holiday.

The UK would also lift a ban on non-essential travel to nearly all EU destinations, the British territories including Bermuda and Gibraltar, and Turkey, Thailand, Australia and New Zealand, the Telegraph added.

Britain is moving to reopen its pubs, restaurants and other businesses this weekend, signalling a gradual reopening of its economy.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned people to maintain social distancing rules and is expected to repeat that caution at a news conference on Friday.

“Anyone who flouts social distancing and COVID-Secure rules is not only putting us all at risk but letting down those businesses and workers who have done so much to prepare for this new normal,” he will say.

Source: Read Full Article